Two years ago, Konda Mason was visiting a friend in Manhattan. It was bitter cold outside, too cold for a Californian to search out a natural foods market, and Mason hadn't eaten anything chemically treated or commercially grown in years. So she went hungry until her friend told her the fruits and vegetables in the apartment's fridge were in fact organically grown--and delivered to the door every week. "I thought: What a great idea--an organic grocery delivery service," Mason says.
Such a great idea that on the flight back to Los Angeles, Mason telephoned Laura Louie--a fellow vegan she'd met at a yoga workshop at an ashram--and within a few days the two friends became business partners and co-creators of "Yoganics," Los Angeles's first organic food delivery service. With the financial help of Louie's live-in partner, Woody Harrelson (yes, that Woody Harrelson), Mason and Louie began deliveries last year with three employees and an old van. The first week they delivered 20 boxes (containing mixtures of seasonal fruits, vegetables and organic foodstuffs, ranging from $20 to $50). "Now we deliver over 300 boxes every week " says Louie.
It's a little after 9 on a sunny Tuesday morning when I arrive at the Yoganics warehouse in South-Central. The latest hip-hop provides a musical backdrop as Smiley Powell, Yoganics' general manager, and her crew of Ernie Rivera, Terry Savage and Larry McNutt quickly load oranges, apples, tomatoes, broccoli, sweet potatoes and wondrously fresh, leafy lettuce into cardboard boxes atop long stainless steel tables. The scene resembles a '90s Santa's workshop with a serious eco-agri slant--a bulletin board is cluttered with environmental flyers and organic food recipes; "Support organic farmers" bumper stickers decorate the walls.
Beyond the gorgeous smell of fresh fruits and vegetables, one quickly notices that Yoganics is more ethnically diverse than some L.A. public school classrooms. "I really love this work environment," says Rivera, hefting a box into one of the two white vans emblazoned with Yoganics' green tree logo. Like most of his co-workers, Rivera lives near the warehouse. "Delivering organic food is like making a promise that the world is going to be a better place," he adds. "It tastes good, too."
"Like food used to taste when I was a kid," adds Barbara DeHart, as she hops into her truck. "I'd never driven a truck before I worked here. Then again I'd never tasted organic food, either. Now, I don't eat anything else."
Yoganics' down-neighborhood location and feel were intentional. With food boxes priced as low as $30, Louie and Mason's aim was to service more than the glitter belt.
"We could've located somewhere in Brentwood or Santa Monica--it was a conscious decision to locate this business here," says Mason. "We've made efforts to hire people who live in the area and tried to keep our prices low enough for people here to be able to buy organic fruits and vegetables." Yoganics' client list includes Brad Pitt, Helen Hunt and Oliver Stone, but Mason and Louie are more apt to discuss community outreach than drop names. "In the last few months, deliveries to homes in this neighborhood are up and that makes us feel like we're in the right business," Mason says. "No one should eat pesticides in their food."
Still, it will probably be a long time before Wild Oats or Whole Foods sets up shop in South-Central. In the meantime, notes Yoganics' Powell: "We're just in the business of bringing good food to good people."